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Friday October 09, 2015

Los Angeles Council Passes Earthquake Retrofit Rules For Many Older Buildings

By Josie Huang and the AP

In this file photo, a construction worker using a chain on January 24, 1994, starts to cut up some of the destroyed walls in the courtyard of Northridge Meadow, the apartment complex that collapsed during the Northridge earthquake. A proposal to require retrofitting on certain buildings that is being considered by the Los Angeles City Council on Friday, October 9, 2015, could affect as many as 13,500 so-called soft-first-story buildings, which are typically wood-frame structures with large spaces on the ground floor. AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The Los Angeles City Council has passed a law requiring costly upgrades of thousands of older wood and concrete apartment buildings that would be vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake.

The retrofitting law could cover as many as 13,500 so-called soft-first-story buildings, which are typically wood-frame structures with large spaces on the ground floor. As many as 1,500 brittle concrete buildings also could be affected.

Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the law outside the city’s municipal building in Van Nuys.

Garcetti said the law sent the message that "there is no Angeleno that should be allowed to die because of the inaction that we took during an earthquake."

The 12-0 vote gives Los Angeles one of the strongest retrofit laws in the country. San Francisco passed a law earlier, but it affects a third as many buildings and does not include concrete structures.

Seismologist Lucy Jones, who has been advising the city on earthquake preparedness, credited city officials for the "unprecedented" law.

"There will be a future earthquake, at which time we will look back and say nobody died because this city council, this mayor, took action and got rid of the buildings that we know are going to kill people," Jones said.

Garcetti first announced his retrofit plans nearly a year ago. Property owners have resisted mandates because the cost of retrofits could run from the tens of thousands of dollars for wooden buildings to hundreds of thousands for concrete buildings.

City officials say the bill AB 428 could substantially cut the cost of retrofits by offering tax breaks to building owners equal to 30 percent of the cost of seismic retrofits. Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sunday to sign the bill. Garcetti said the passage of LA's law was not intended to be prompt for the governor, who he said is "not a big fan of tax credits in general."

"There's no message intended with today, but given the opportunity, Mr. Governor, I hope you can sign that," Garcetti said.

Councilmembers spoke for the need for such an ordinance, conjuring memories of the 1994 Northridge quake that killed 16 people.

Councilmember Mitch Englander pointed out that the Northridge quake happened around 4:30 a.m.

"Imagine it happening in the middle of the day," Englander said.

The law will take effect 30 days from the signing, according to City Attorney Mike Feuer. Details of how repairs costs will be split between tenants and landlords still needs to be worked out.

Tenants advocate Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival said he was worried because current city laws allow landlords to pass the entire cost of repairs onto tenants.

"We urge the City Council, after today’s vote, to immediately take the actions needed to amend the 100 percent pass-through provision before the mandate takes effect to provide tenants protection and equity in regards to the retrofit cost," Gross said in a statement.

A proposal from the city’s housing department would split the costs evenly between landlords and tenants, and cap retrofit costs for tenants to $38 a month. Garcetti tried to provide reassurances to renters.

"I certainly think it should be shared," Garcetti said. "This is not something that tenants should bear the burden of by themselves."

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